Many people, when worrying about their health, will only concern themselves with their muscles, digestive system, skin, hair, and heart. But people tend to forget about one of the most important parts of our body, our bones.
Bones play more roles in the body than just structure, they protect organs, store calcium, and anchor muscles. It’s very important to build strong and healthy bones during childhood and teenage years, but you still build bone mass during adulthood which will help your health in the long run. Poor bone health can cause health conditions later on in life, like osteoporosis or rickets and can increase the likelihood of breaking bones at an older age, which can end up being fatal for the elderly.
Factors that affect bone health
- Calcium – Low calcium in a diet will lead to decreased bone density, increased risk of fractures, and bone loss.
- Exercise – People who don’t exercise have a higher risk of osteoporosis than people who exercise regularly.
- Size – You can just be a smaller person and have a smaller skeletal frame, but this can mean any loss in the bone can have worse consequences for a thinner framed person compared to someone who has a larger frame.
- Age – Your bones thin, weaken, and lose density as you age.
- Sex – You’re at greater risk of osteoporosis if you’re a female because they have less bone tissue than males
- Family history and ethnicity – As with most health conditions, if you have a family history of weaker, thinner bones or bone conditions you’re at a higher risk of having issues in your life. People of Caucasian descent are also more likely to develop osteoporosis.
- Hormonal levels – Hormones influence nearly everything in the body and bone growth and loss is no different. Of course, during puberty, bone growth is at its highest. Menopause causes bone loss due to lowered oestrogen levels. In males, low testosterone levels can cause a loss of bone mass and density.
- Drugs and medications – Alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs are known to decrease bone mass, but medication prescribed by doctors like certain corticosteroids and cancer treatments can too, not as an intentional use but as an unfortunate effect.
Improving Bone Health
Bone loss is inevitable but there are steps you can take to one: gain as much bone as you can in your 20s and two: slow the rate of bone loss to prevent serious health conditions and have a more mobile body as you age.
- Vitamin D – Make sure you get enough of it. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and your bones need calcium to grow and strengthen. You can get vitamin D from exposing your skin to the sun, eating some foods like egg yolks, oily fish, or red meats, or by taking vitamin D supplements. Either way, a walk outside is great for your overall health. People aged 19 to 70 should be getting 600 IUs (international units) a day. This increases to 800 IUs a day for people aged 71 and older.
- Calcium – The recommended amount of calcium an adult above 19 is 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day. This increases to 1,200 mg a day for women aged 51 and older and for men aged 71 and older. Sources of calcium are dairy, broccoli, kale, almonds, sardines, and soy products. You can of course also get supplements. Many people with a plant-based diet (mostly vegans) can often suffer from calcium deficiencies due to a lack of dairy. So, if you have a plant-based diet make sure you’re eating veg with lots of calcium in it like kale and broccoli.
- Exercise – Exercising is good for your health in general and every adult should be doing it. Whether it’s cardio, weight training or doing simple exercises at home, working out can boost your physical and mental health and help strengthen your bones. If you’re having difficulty getting into regular exercise, I would suggest starting with something simple like walking, jogging, climbing stairs, or jumping as any exercise will help you slow bone loss. Simple exercises are better than none at all.
- Recreational Drugs – Now I’m not trying to stop anyone’s fun of course, but if you’re concerned about your bone health or just want to stay in good health for the long- run, I’d highly recommend cutting down on recreational drugs or cutting them out altogether. For smoking, health experts recommend that you don’t smoke at all. For drinking try not to have more than one alcoholic drink a day.
All in all, if you take care of your general health and get enough vitamin D and calcium, you’re good. You’ll be taking care of your bones ensuring that even in old age you’ll still be able to move with relative ease and will be less likely to break a bone or develop a bone condition. If you’re concerned about your bone health or have growing bodily pains, please visit your local GP and ask for advice.